The government is back to business attacking the lettings sector with an extraordinary claim by a minister that many students are obliged to live in “squalor.”
Universities minister Chris Skidmore says many landlords do not fulfil their obligations and responsibilities to student tenants and claims figures show that one in five students live in squalor and have reported mice, slugs, and other vermin infesting their accommodation.
Skidmore says the new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act - which came into force last week and allows tenants to sue landlords if accommodation falls below a specified level - should empower students and tenants more generally.
He describes the Act as a milestone for student renters, helping to raise standards in student accommodation and hold landlords more accountable for their actions and responsibilities.
“Students’ time at university should be some of the best days of their lives and yet I have heard appalling stories of students living in terrible conditions, which can affect their studies and even their mental health” says Skidmore.
“While there are many landlords who do take their responsibilities seriously, for too long rogue private landlords have been exploiting vulnerable students by failing to provide even basic standards of living.
“Now the time is up for these landlords making a profit from shoddy accommodation. These new regulations make landlords more accountable, helping to improve standards, and students should use their powers to make sure landlords face justice where they’re not fulfilling their responsibilities.”
Housing minister Heather Wheeler, in a statement issued in parallel with Skidmore’s speech to students yesterday, says: “For the last year, we have worked tirelessly to ensure all tenants, including students, have access to a fairer private rented market across the country.
“From cracking down on unnecessary costs through our Tenant Fees Act, extending HMO regulations to offer protections to more tenants than ever before and giving councils the funding they need to tackle rogue landlords, we are determined to make renting of the standard it should be.
“Now, these changes are set to have a real impact. Students must use these powers to crackdown on poor quality accommodation and opportunistic landlords profiting from tenants’ misery.”
Skidmore’s speech cited a survey by the National Union of Students and student housing provider UniPol which found that last year 40 per cent of UK students who rented privately apparently suffered damp and mould on their walls.
The same survey found that over a third of students said poor living conditions made them feel anxious or depressed.
UniPol and student regulatory body Universities UK have jointly created codes of practice and conduct, which landlords can sign up to, claiming certain standards are met.
Skidmore says all private landlords letting properties to students should sign up to these codes to help to ensure - in the words of the education ministry - “they act responsibly, meet standards of practice and have a clear complaints process.”